A Place to Call Home

I hear Church-planter Paul making amazing faith declarations, like “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (Philippians 4:12) and I know that this is no small thing, because I’ve read the travel journal he left behind. He spent most of his life uprooted, on the road, hunted down, in pain, cold and hungry. At odds with the culture around him. But still he could think of himself as peaceful and happy, because he had already found a home in God. His heart is on full display in his letters: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….” (Philippians 3:8-9)

I know in my spirit that what Paul says is right and true– that Christ is a treasure, worth more than anything else in this world. I also recognize that my heart has a long way to go before it can find joy in every loss, if it means having more of Jesus. But maybe that’s not something I have to grow into all at once. Maybe it is as simple as listening to what Jesus said about knowing Him, and accepting His invitation to come live with Him. “Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11) Just come near to Jesus and live there, this one day. Then do it all over again tomorrow. And whenever you wander away– when emotions get bullied by circumstances and thoughts whirl– just turn around and run Home again where you are safe and Someone loves you best of all. We understand that He gives eternal life, but sometimes we forget that eternity isn’t something for after we die. Eternal life begins the moment we ask Him to make us new. Jesus describes it in gardening terms: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Maybe it is easiest for us to understand when we feel alive and growing, and we can see the fruit He is producing in us. And I know how the hard days can blind the heart, so that we rush into instinctive flight…or fight back with whatever is readily on hand. As if we could ever beat back the darkness of this world with more of the same. But the secret Paul learned is that even in times of loss and pain and fear, God’s presence was his refuge, a safe place to run. He wrote in one of his letters, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation… present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Live with Him, talk to Him, thank Him, expect Him to answer. This is how Jesus wants us to understand His simple everyday invitation, and He promises that when we stay close to Him, our prayers are already worked into God’s plans. When life is difficult, there is no better place to put down roots than the Source of all comfort and strength and healing. Just keep coming Home with your needs and trust the loving Father to take care of you, . The Musician-King set it to music some thousand years before: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Not all of us have known the blessing of a healthy home on this earth, but we all do share that longing. We want to have that commitment to family, day in and day out, until memory overlays memory, all the good and the bad shared by people who love one another, and the place becomes rich with it. We want that comfortable haven where we can be most ourselves, the place we feel accepted and secure, at peace. Sometimes the days are messy and struggling, but we choose to persevere, hold onto faith that it will work out for good. This creates a place to call home with walls and a door, and it holds true in the spiritual world as well. This is what Paul learned day by day: to make his heart’s home in Christ’s presence– through good and bad, obeying what Jesus had taught him and trusting His love. Until he could look back on the years and say without a shadow of a doubt that it had been worth it. That what he had lost didn’t even matter in light of all that he had gained. And really, what could you possibly lack when you have an intimate relationship with the God of heaven and earth? Paul’s home was wherever Jesus was, and Jesus had never left him, no matter what strange lands Paul traveled. It was a connection as elemental as a plant rooted and flourishing in a vineyard.

So we begin simply, as children, choosing to take Jesus’ outstretched hand and stay close beside Him this day. And again tomorrow, whatever may happen. Just keep on coming Home to His presence. As we choose to obey, choose to trust, choose to be close to Him, we are growing strong and secure in His love. And someday we will be able to say confidently with Paul, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

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Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again ?


Not for a minute
Was I forsaken….
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

Here Again, Elevation Worship

Lighthouse People

There were these chalk artists, when I was a little girl, who would come to Summer Camp, or special meetings at church. The lights would dim so that eyes could focus on the easel and the artist’s hands as he laid colors up on that paper, music swelling in the background while he blended and swirled shades together confidently. You could never tell what he was drawing at first, but the skies, the sea, the mountains sprang into existence beneath his touch, and it was obvious the artist knew exactly where he was going with it. It always felt like a small glimpse of Creation, and what it was like for the angels who looked on in the Beginning. Gradually the details sprang up: trees, bushes, waves, birds flying high, until the final focal point of the picture became clear. Often the picture was of a lighthouse on a cliff, looking out over the sea– sometimes stormy, sometimes calm at sunset– and a sailing ship coming into the harbor. The artist would give a Bible lesson about how Jesus guides us to the safe harbor of Heaven, if we watch for His light.

That memory sticks with me, and of course I haven’t out-grown the need to be guided by Jesus’ light, but by now those early lessons are overlaid with many renditions of This Little Light of Mine and the verse I learned in Bible Club about how to shine as children of God: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Turns out that as we grow up, Christ-followers are being shaped by the Creator’s hands into a lighthouse as well, shining through the darkness to help people find the Way.

And here Paul is, talking about how to live as a child of light, only there is nothing about cliffs and sunsets and strong beacons at sea; he is getting very down-to-earth and ordinary with it. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…” (Philippians 2:14-15) Everything? Well that covers a great deal. And without grumbling? Complaining seems like a relatively small thing on the scale of venial sins, but if you ever manage to step out of that river, you realize just how easy it was to get swept into the current. And maybe it has more importance than we realize, because Paul finishes his sentence: “Then you will shine…like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16) See it’s not enough to be relatively better than the rest of the world. I mean just watch the news for an hour, and you can end up feeling smugly secure about yourself, and yet still blend in gray against the backdrop.

No, the way to stand out in the darkness is to become something altogether different– learn to speak a different language from the prevailing flow of words and opinions and values, like the foreigner that you are. If you are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, it might mean not criticizing all the things that are wrong in this world as if it were a surprise to you (because there is no end to that list) and start giving thanks for all God’s blessings in this world (which are also unending and really are often surprising). It will mean holding firmly to the Living Word who wakened you to eternal life; fixing your eyes on Him and not getting distracted. It will mean giving up grumbling about how difficult life is, for the sake of offering praises to God for His provision and presence with you. Instead of arguing your point, your rights, your opinions on how things should be, deciding to lay down your Self for the good of others the way Jesus did. That is plenty enough to keep you busy, and remarkable enough to make you shine.

And again, Paul has the right words for it: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s a call for all of us non-conformists to step into the Light of God’s Word and let its fiery truth re-make us– be set ablaze ourselves– until suddenly all that old darkness is illuminated and we can see it for what it is. So can everyone else, and it will either draw them into the Light as well, or make them uncomfortable; Paul says don’t let either reaction shock you or sway you… just keep on shining bright. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) And what great power it is, that wakes up the dead to eternal life!– that takes enemies and makes them beloved children, “that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) It is not yet completely apparent what we will become, but we can stand firm on God’s promise that “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I imagine that as the angels watch the Creator at work and us shining for His glory, they can’t stop singing for joy.

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…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-20

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The world thirsts for a different kind of neighbor—not the kind who deny their fellowman, take up their comforts, and follow their dreams—but the kind who deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus in his mission of loving a weary world to life. The world also thirsts for a new vision for being human, for pursuing and entering friendship, and for leaving things better than we found them.


Scott Sauls

Of Fire and Faith and Precious Things

Almost ten years ago now, John Piper published his very personal and powerful testimony of what God could accomplish through crisis, entitled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The title was slightly shocking, definitely thought-provoking, but it turns out that a long time ago a Fisherman-turned-preacher was writing the same kinds of things: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Perhaps more shocking to our modern mindset is Peter’s idea that this experience was everyday normal. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Somehow we cling to the notion that suffering and disappointments are not normal to life…or at least have the idea that they are interruptions to real life, and we should do whatever it takes to resolve them quickly, with as little damage as possible, so we can go back to the pursuit of happiness we are surely entitled to. It sounds as irrational as it is, when you write it out like that. Even more strange is the blithe assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to other people. Really? Odd that we fail to see the illogic in this almost universal misdirection.

And it’s like we have this picture with a number of the puzzle pieces missing, so that the entire image is still a mystery. All we know for sure is that if we have to suffer pain, we want it be meaningful in some way– we don’t want our ordeal to be wasted. Peter says the meaning is found in the promises of God that assure us of who we are and where we are going. He writes to the early believers: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4) God’s promises give us forward-looking perspective on whatever we are facing here along the way, and the point from both these good preachers stands like a beacon: when we find ourselves in the fire, clearly there is more to see than only flames.

Peter says the main purpose of trials is to re-shape our hearts, and goodness knows, mine needs a new shape. Sometimes it seems like my transformation into Jesus’ likeness moves at a snail’s pace, so maybe I should welcome the rough patches, see them for what they are: a crucible, where the circumstances of life combine and interact to create something new in me. I do understand that, how pain and grief make us wrestle with what we actually believe, examine our flawed ideas about who God is. I recognize that stripping away of what Pastor Tim Keller refers to as functional idols— the things we depend on in our everyday life instead of God. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly easy to grab onto any solid thing that offers to ease the stress I feel, distract from the hard things I don’t want to face….often without thought for how well it can actually save me. And it’s a tragic irony that so many of the lifelines I can cling to are only holding me stuck where I am– just one more thing to burn. Better to let go, hold out empty hands and fall into the arms of the Savior who stands next to me in the fiery furnace. It is a severe mercy that takes away the things that separate us from the One who loves us more than life.That kind of loss only makes us stronger.

And right there I discover the more personal value of pain. The author of Hebrews encourages his readers with these words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”(Hebrews 4:15) He has walked the path of suffering Himself, and when we are content to follow Him there, we come to know Him better, understand His heart. When everything else burns away, we can see Him face to face; as we pour out our hearts to Him, we begin to understand that it is His own love that is the consuming fire, for He will not tolerate anything but the best for us. As a wise sister said recently: “Prayer is the weapon we wield that makes everything else we do survive fire.” (Ann VosKamp) And I can hear the Musician-King singing, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) I believe this with my mind, but in following Him through suffering my heart gets to learn to sing along through the tears.

The way to waste pain is to miss the point of it– refuse to let God use it for His good plans. And all of me can get in the way of what He is accomplishing. My pride, my self-sufficiency, my fear and anger and refusal to listen, my running away to anything other than Him. If I can remember that trials are just part of life, and tools in God’s powerful hands, there is not a moment that will be wasted. Lord, give me eyes to see You, ears to hear Your voice, and a teachable heart that does not fear the fire.

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These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:7

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There’s nowhere I’d rather be,
When You’re singing over me–
I just wanna be here with You.
I’m lost in Your mystery;
I’m found in Your love for me–
I just wanna be here with You


So let all that I am
Be consumed with who You are,
All the glory of Your presence–
What more could I ask for?


With You, Elevation Worship

Family Matters

A friend told me a few weeks ago that she would have faith for me, when my own heart was not strong enough, and it was the best gift. That promise comes back to me over and over, a sort of walking stick to lean on, as I go. Some days you have to lean hard on the faith of others, because you feel the battle raging hard and the full vulnerability of your spirit. This is where the Family of God shines bright, when we stand shoulder to shoulder against the darkness and pray for one another, lift up our own faith to strengthen others in the fire. We truly do not know the battles another person may be fighting on the inside, and how powerful our words of encouragement may be in their lives. Peter assures us that all of us go through hard times– they are meant to strengthen our faith, to strip away the clutter and fog of this world. Walking through the fire is a normal part of any faith-journey, and we should not be surprised or dismayed by it. Some housefires are more obvious than others, but no Christ-follower is exempt, and we can’t afford to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we lose the time to watch out for the rest of the Family.

Because we can’t ever forget that there is an Enemy out there, a hungry predator in the night who desires only to cripple and destroy. Peter warns us to stay alert for him and fight back, be stronger together. It’s like the Wise King always said: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) These men understood how invaluable healthy relationships are in the difficult places of life. Even though we rejoice greatly in Jesus’ promise never to leave us, sometimes we still need someone with skin on, as my daughter used to say.

So when you are faltering in your own faith, weary of waiting and asking, let my faith stand for you. And when I have one of those days when it feels like a strong wind could blow right through me, I will reach out to you. Let us pledge to be the face of Jesus to one another, the tangible reminder of His power and presence with us in whatever we are going through. This is what the Family of God is for, and none of us should live as orphans in this world. And here is Peter reminding us again how very much we matter to our Heavenly Father: “…you are a chosen people….that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

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There’s a grace when the heart is under fire
Another way when the walls are closing in
And when I look at the space between
Where I used to be and this reckoning
I know I will never be alone…


There’ll be another in the fire
Standing next to me
There’ll be another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
How good You’ve been to me
I’ll count the joy come every battle
Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Another in The Fire, Elevation Worship

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And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.


1 PETER 5:10-11

Here in The Middle

I’m watching the dark earth wake up from its deep slumber all around me; the birds are fluttering and chirping in the bushes out front; and some preacher is talking about doing good deeds that can change the world during Lent; and it is as if the whole world is running headlong towards Easter morning. I know for many it is just another holiday, but underneath don’t we all have that wildly-winging hope for meaningful change? When the miracle unfolds right before our eyes of ice-cold days giving in to the warmth of the sun, of dead dry earth sprouting up new growth, it feels like anything could happen, and who knows what dry barren places left for dead might be renewed, called back to life. Here in the middle, between death and life, between where we’ve been and where we want to be, we wait and we count the days…all forty…through the six Sundays of Lent. And it’s like I can hear the Musician-King singing triumphantly, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Peter may have known more about the sea and its fish than he did about growing things in the damp earth, but he was used to waiting, had watched the darkness fade into dawn a hundred times over the Galilee; watched the sun catch the ripples of the water, and the shadows slide over the hills beyond; seen the cold of Winter melt into Spring every year of his life. He knew as well as any of us how it feels to be buried under the weight of guilt, carry your grief around and long for the light to come. And Peter may not have known much about philosophy and science, but he was dead-certain about one thing, that the cave-tomb where they left Jesus’ body was busted open that Sunday, and the light of day streamed in like glory on those neatly discarded clothes. Peter knew without a doubt that death can be the prelude to life, as surely as the seasons change every year, because the man he used to be was gone, and the Risen Christ who had walked out of that grave had resurrected him to new life too. He wrote to the scattered Christians to reassure them of what he had seen, remind them of what they were waiting for: “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)

Someone reminded me lately that in the space between the present circumstances and the future unknown, we are not alone, and if ever we thought we might get left in a really tough place, all we have to do is look up, to see the face of God who lives in the right-now of every moment. We may feel stuck, slowly counting through the days, but Jesus’ cross stands in the middle of everything, the unequivocal evidence that He is making all things new– the immovable promise that He is good, that He is standing beside us in the fire, as close as breath. Here in the middle of March, as Winter fades and turns toward Easter, we can see with our own eyes how Death is overcome by His Life, and the Darkness bowing down, all around. The Church-Planter Paul says it most eloquently: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

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O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me…You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever.”


Psalm 30: 2-3, 11-12

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My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave
Your love is great enough to take away my shame
Your mercy reigns
My God is making new the wreckage of my heart
Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark
Your mercy reigns

Mercy Reigns, Elevation Worship

Doing Life Together

You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?

And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length and in detail about how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters. As you read there is a definite sense that although relationships within the Family of God are vitally important, they are also a lot of work, even downright messy at times. Here in his own letter we find Peter echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an excellent life. Whether we are talking about governments, marriage, or the Family of God, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the One who called us into His kingdom. Practically speaking, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself. Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to detail the everyday nuts and bolts of how to walk as children of the light, and confront us with our behavior. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” Peter says, and it’s a little shocking that he needs to say that to believers about how to treat each other, but I am glad he does. I appreciate his honesty about the fact that any relationship can be difficult at times, and our learning to follow Jesus’ example is a long slow process.

In Peter’s day, Christ-followers did not seek out flocks of similar feather. Whatever their personal backgrounds and preferences, their numbers were small enough and the need was great enough that any group threw together the merchant and the slave, the educated and the illiterate, of every race and both genders. Forming a new spiritual community required setting aside deep-seated prejudices and cultural values to embrace the equality they had in Christ. It is ironic that in our modern day when so many of those cultural divisions have been overcome, and we have the freedom to worship wherever we want, we tend to choose the spiritual community that is the most like us and feels comfortable, just because we can. Maybe it’s laziness on our part– an attempt to avoid the hard work of loving others and pursuing peace– or maybe just taking advantage of the options. Most likely we’ve never even thought about it, but I wonder if we are often stunting our growth to maturity in the process. Peter has no interest in our comfort or our options: he holds up high standards of relationship as something we should all be working toward if we want to “love life and see good days.” (1 Peter 3:10)

In his letter, Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care, who enter into one another’s lives to share both rejoicing and pain. Christ-followers who are courageous enough to confront sin, to bear with one another’s growing pains and offer forgiveness. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. As Paul puts it, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent and called to be a holy people, regardless of where we have come from, or who we were before. If we stop to think about it, the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– who we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. So Peter fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold up the same values, not because the group is culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from the world’s perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the kingdom of light.

If I am serious about being a Christ-follower, I must also take the rest of the Family seriously, and work hard to have healthy relationships here. Because people are watching us, and the most valuable way to build bridges is to live an excellent life. Because we need each other in order to run our race well and persevere. Because Jesus emptied Himself of privilege and power to come down and live as a servant, even to the point of dying in our place. Because God calls us to follow in His Son’s footsteps, and He says it is all glory.

And again there is this theme of beautiful light running throughout Peter’s letter, and us living as strangers in this world, shining in the darkness to draw others to God.

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Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, n make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…Philippians 2:1-5

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We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
Madeleine L’Engle

The Secret to Living Well

I admitted to a friend this week that the older I get, the more I realize the sheer value of not giving up. As life skills go, it isn’t anything we would point out as admirable, and when you are younger you hardly even realize its necessity, so the very fact of noticing probably speaks of your age. The thing is, in the energy and ambition of youth no one warns you how many ordinary days there are in a life, and how even the best-laid plans often leave you somewhere you didn’t expect to be. Perseverance may not be flashy and exciting, but that determination to keep going and keep trying may make the difference between finishing well or getting lost in the woods along the way. The longer you travel through life, the more you realize how easy it is to get sidetracked and how it can happen to anyone. Church-planter Paul puts it in terms of a race, and like an athlete he presses on toward the finish line to get the reward, leaving the past in the dust. Inspiring as that is, many days the words of the prophet Isaiah resonate more with me, as a woman who needs daily strength and wisdom. He promises that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) Some days I am quite content to walk and not faint. And whether we are soaring or staggering, it is faith in something beyond this life that keeps us pressing forward, and it is a lesson every child of the light needs to learn.

An oil painting hangs in my living room, in a heavy gold frame.  The foreground is dark forest, with tall trees obscuring the sky, but there is a path winding away into distant light that streams through the branches. A friend who dabbled in oil painting showed up in my kitchen with it, years ago– said she called it Walk Toward The Light. The painting has hung on my wall ever since, a visual representation of Hope. It is one of my favorite possessions. I can see how that particular theme of perseverance and following the light has become part of me and shaped my perspectives, has become a sort of anchor for the heart: Don’t focus on the dark trees of despair, but on the light of His love….You don’t need to understand these circumstances, just walk in the light of His guidance, one step at a time…. In the midst of pain hold onto the strength of the One who is Mighty to save….Wait for the Lord, wait for Him to act, and put your hope in Him, because He is faithful….When other voices confuse and batter at your heart, look for God’s Truth shining clear. Keep walking toward the Light and don’t give up.

Time and experience as a Christ-follower give you the vantage point to realize that the everyday steps you take today will influence the path you travel tomorrow, and those ordinary choices are adding up into a lifetime. Peter says that as we choose each day to live as children of light we are growing in our knowledge of the One who called us out of darkness. And He promises that all those small everyday efforts to obey Him are together producing a life that will prove meaningful and rich. Peter puts it like this to the early believers: “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

So every time we meet pain or difficulty or disappointment it is a crossroads of decision, an opportunity to choose faith, to choose obedience. Every situation contains a question from God: Can you trust Me with this? Do you truly believe that I am Goodness itself and have your best interests in mind? Will you surrender your will and obey Me in this? In order to keep walking in the light you have to stand on the solid truth of God’s calling and His “great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). Peter says these are meant to be our resources for living; in fact, we should “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Peter 1:5). Then he expands on what that will look like: Choose to do the right thing. Choose to pursue more of Christ. Choose to rein in your emotions and all the desires of Self that fight for dominance. Choose to forgive, to make peace, to love even the most difficult people. And keep on doing it day after day in all the twists and turns of the path you are on.

Perseverance is what proves to the watching world that your faith is real and there is a God who deserves all the glory. More importantly for us, Peter says, “Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11) The key to finishing this faith we have started is nothing more exciting than perseverance. Keep walking toward the Light, dear friends, wherever you are on this faith-journey.

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And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-2

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The greatest act of courage is to simply keep facing one direction when everything in you wants to turn and run.

Ann VosKamp

Fearless

As we trace Peter’s thoughts through paragraph after paragraph, themes emerge– the main points he wants these early believers to latch onto and remember. One particular bright thread weaves through the black and white words, connecting each section in unexpected patterns of color: The way to walk as children of light, mindful of their glorious inheritance is to live without fear. Pretty idealistic considering that at this point in history they are a handful of Christ-followers in a suspicious world, an odd ragtag minority, carrying around strange ideas about some carpenter-turned-king the Empire had already disposed of and left for dead. But Peter says don’t be afraid to live as strangers swimming against the current of culture.

He says go ahead and live well in the face of men who slander and accuse you, as a walking talking testimony to the transforming power of the gospel, because you know that God will sort it all out when He comes. Submit to human authorities and governments, even though they be unjust and fail in their responsibilities, because you can trust the God who has authority over all men. Serve those who employ you willingly and with respect, whether or not they deserve it, because you have been called to follow in the humility and patience of Christ. Live out your faith in the home as a peaceful and beautiful example of God’s redemptive power, even though those closest to you have the most power to hurt and betray you. Peter says you can do all these things without fear, because you can trust the God who “caused [you] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) to guard your heart.

Someone reminded me this week that the root of all our striving and stress is fear for the future: fear that we will lose good things…that pain will come…that we will not be enough, have enough, know enough to succeed and get what we desire. Our first impulse is always to protect ourselves, from the dangers that threaten and uncertainties we cannot control. And Peter says just lay it all down, because you do not have to be that person anymore. “Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-15)


We cannot live as children of light as long as we are holding onto fear…and the only remedy for fear is trust. Peter lays the precious foundation of Christ, given for us before the beginning of the world, says if we plant our feet firmly in His love we can handle any troubles this world can throw at us with joy, “and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” (1 Peter 2:6) Fellow-disciple John echoes the thought and declares confidently that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) These men have watched Jesus lay down His innocence as a sacrifice for us over the course of three terrifying days– they witnessed the greatest act of perfect love this world will ever experience, and they have been transformed. John says knowing Christ makes all the difference in the way they live: “We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one who is eternal life.” (1 John 1:1-2)

The world is still a scary place. And the Enemy of my soul’s health is an accomplished spear-thrower, knows just where all my wounds and weaknesses are, and fear is a powerful weapon in his hand. But Peter’s counsel echoes in my head: “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control…” (1 Peter 1:13) Every day I get to choose to respond to circumstances either with fear or with trust. And I can see the logical disconnect of claiming the Most High God as my Father in Heaven and still allowing insecurity and fear to shape my days. Every threatening uncertainty that rises up need only drive me into God’s presence and power, where I can sing with the Musician-King, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:2)

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All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see

1 Peter 1:3-5

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Whatever you agree with you give power to in your life. If you agree with the truth, the truth will set you free. If you agree with lies, lies will enslave you. In order to change the way you live, you have to change the way you think.

Rob Reimer (Soul Care)

Even So

Sometimes giving up is as much an act of faith as asking in the first place. If I stop asking, hoping, watching for You to move, it would be as huge a mile-marker as any. Opening my hand and letting earnest expectation slip through my fingers. Prying my fingers loose from the beliefs and promises I’ve been holding onto. Not because they are not true, but because I am no longer sure about Your will. I believe You are good and faithful and full of mercy to those who call to You…everything You say You are… but there are days I feel to the depths of my soul how very Other You are. And I hear the Prophet Isaiah giving voice to Your words: ” ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Maybe sometimes even my prayers of faith are drawing lines that limit what You want to do in my world. Maybe there is a faith that just trusts who You are, without understanding the Why.

After all, why should I expect to understand what God has in mind, or think that it would make sense to me? Everything He does is outside the realm of human sensibilities. The Almighty defines love with the bloody death of His Son… greatness as washing the dirty feet of fishermen… joy as facing trials that grow faith stronger. So it is quite possible that God’s goodness and grace to me will look vastly different than I would think, and sometimes I need to have the faith to stop praying for results, stop hoping for the deliverance I long for, and just sit here in silence, say Your will be done, Lord.

Maybe this is the kind of faith Daniel’s friends had when they declared that God could deliver them from the flames, but even if He did not, they would still worship. This sounds like the faith of the prophets who witnessed the destruction of their people and said that although the land should fail beneath them, still they would rejoice in the God who saves. This is a faith that whispers: whatever Your answer looks like, even so, it is well with my soul. Whether the healing comes, or the circumstances change, or I ever understand what you are doing in the world…even so, You are with me and I am not forsaken. Even so, You are worthy of praise and honor. Even so, I believe.

Peter is talking again about living like strangers in this world, which frankly sounds completely unappealing, and kind of lonely. But I understand what he is saying: don’t settle here, don’t invest for the long-term, don’t collect stuff and waste your time on trivialities, because you aren’t going to be here that long anyway, in light of eternity. He wants us to know who we are forever, in Christ, and let that perception change the way we live in the everyday. He keeps it simple and uncomplicated: “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:14) So how does it shape your prayers when you take your eyes off the earth right in front of you? How does an heir of the riches of heaven open his hands in generosity? How does a child of God who has been loved and known since before the foundation of the world serve other people? What does it look like to share in the sufferings of Christ? To wear His holiness? Life looks different from this vantage-point, and maybe Daniel’s friends understood the exact same thing Peter and Paul were writing about, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) The faith that sets its eyes on the unseen things can say Even so, it is well with my soul, no matter what comes.

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“Though you have not seen Him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 1:8-9

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“…we trust all that the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say. To it all we say, by His loving enabling, I trust. Let us be content with the Lord’s will, and tell Him so. The more we understand His love, the more we trust.”

Amy Carmichael

Of Slow Starters and Surefire Winners

I think most of us find that it is difficult to be patient with process, whether we are talking about learning a new skill, remodeling a home, or getting back in shape. Wanting the good results is the easy part, but it’s that one step forward and two back that really tests your resolve to persevere. The number of abandoned projects and piles of new equipment gathering dust out there attest to that fact. Peter the Disciple was a live-in-the-moment kind of guy, knew what it was like to be wired that way– big on excitement and not so much on follow-through. So it is remarkable to read his letters to the Christ-followers living in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire and see his big-picture viewpoint, hear him urging them to keep their eyes fastened on who they are and where they are headed.

Maybe that was his secret, that at some point he did learn to stop looking at the waves,and start looking at his Savior’s hand outstretched instead. When you take your eyes off the immediate circumstances and the swell of emotions that crash all around, start focusing on the One who is walking with you, your perspective enlarges dramatically. You can say things like, “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” (1 Peter 1:6)  The grief of this world is still very present and real, but so is the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:4-5) As a Christ-follower, the saving grace in life is that you are not trying to get it done in your own strength and self-discipline. Literally. Our life in Christ is wrapped up in His saving grace from beginning to end. And when you grow weary of one more day, and discouraged about your progress, you can rest in that grace that carries you, look forward to the glorious future He purchased, and not give up. Peter was very aware of his own weaknesses– that’s why in his letter he emphasizes how salvation belongs to God and is not dependent on our efforts. It was the Father’s grand plan from the very Beginning, accomplished through the death and resurrection of the Son and the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the hearts of those who believe. It is vitally important to Peter that he lay this out clearly because only on this firm and unchanging foundation can his faith and ours rest secure.

Peter goes so far as to say that persevering in the everyday process is what proves a person’s faith is real. He knew from experience how emotions are not trustworthy guides for a walk of faith. High on the excitement of a miracle or caught up in the passion of a big event, it was easy for him to claim large faith, or propose action. But the same emotion that swells has its counterbalancing downswing, and he also knew the pendulum-swing of failure and rebuke and shame. The emotions will never be enough to make you strong, carry you through; what really matters most is the foundation you are acting on when the fireworks of emotion die down– what you do next.


So Peter can write to these believers (with the authority of one who has learned the hard way) that real faith hangs onto the eternal things that are True, no matter what: “You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) When you know the Most High has gone to such lengths to claim you as His “…special possession….has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9), you can rest assured that perseverance in living out your faith will result in the happy ending that God intends for you.

And to all of us, I hear Peter saying: be patient with the process. Learn to see God at work in it. Wrestle with what it means to “live as God’s obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14) and practice living out His holiness in everyday things. Don’t be too quick to look for escapes and quick fixes. Listen more to His Word and His Spirit instead of your emotions. Long for growth, soak up every bit of nourishment you can get, so that you will grow strong and healthy inside. And be patient with what He is working out in you, for “when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7) God did it for Peter, and He can do it for you. .

I heard a wise teacher say once that our transformation, our healing, our growth will take one day longer than we live in these bodies. Hang in there, then, and be patient, because ” In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4) This is worth waiting for.

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world….For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.”

1 Peter 1:13, 23


“Most of our healings will be experienced through the relatively slow processes with which God wonderfully and wisely equips our bodies. And most of our deliverances will be experienced through the relatively slow (at times frustratingly so) processes with which God wonderfully and wisely equips our minds and souls — replacing habitual responses of belief in deceptive promises and condemning accusations with habitual responses of faith in the true promises and gracious acceptance of God.”


Jon Bloom